Joy Ride’s Rusty Nail may not have the same status as some other horror icons, so here’s why he deserves a little more love. The 1980s was a big decade for iconic boogeymen, which introduced Friday The 13th’s Jason Voorhees, A Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger or Hellraiser’s Pinhead. This was something of a golden era for slasher films, many of which had been inspired by the success of 1978’s Halloween.
Recent years have seen something of a revival in horror villains, such as Pennywise from both IT movies and the return of Michael Myers in 2018’s Halloween. This trend looks like to continue for the foreseeable future, thanks to the upcoming Candyman reboot and Spiral: From The Book Of Saw giving dormant franchises a new lease on life. Fans also have Halloween Kills to look forward to in 2020.
One horror boogeyman who rarely gets brought up is Rusty Nail, the murderous truck driver from Joy Ride. The original Joy Ride from 2001 was co-written by J.J. Abrams and starred Paul Walker (Fast Five) and Steve Zahn as brothers who try to break up the boredom of a long road trip by pranking a trucker with the handle Rusty Nail. This joke goes very wrong when it leaves a man disfigured, and the pair hunted by the vengeful truck driver.
Joy Ride is a simple, effective thriller in the vein of Duel, but it’s elevated by its villain. Rusty Nail’s face is never actually revealed, making him a shadowy force of nature. A masterstroke was having him be voiced by Ted Levine, who is best known for playing Buffalo Bill in The Silence Of The Lambs. Levine’s deep voice adds a lot of menace to Rusty, and while he might be a psychopath, he’s clearly an intelligent, calculating one too. Four alternate endings were shot for Joy Ride that featured Rusty Nail dying in a variety of ways, but the filmmakers wisely opted for the character escaping.
While Joy Ride might be an underrated gem, sadly the same can’t be said for its two sequels. Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead arrived in 2008 as an STV release, with Mark Gibbon (The Chronicles Of Riddick) taking over as Rusty Nail. While the sequel wisely keeps the character in the shadows most of the time, it was also inspired by the torture films of the time like the Saw sequels, so the gore and nudity quota went up.
Things were even worse in Joy Ride 3: Road Kill, where Rusty is played by Freddy Vs Jason’s Ken Kirzinger. This entry was directed by Declan O’Brien (Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines) and makes the mistake of revealing much of Rusty Nail’s face. It doesn’t help that none of the characters are likable and are only there to die in a variety of sadistic ways. The Joy Ride sequels have their fans, but the first movie is a genuinely solid thriller that features a great villain in Rusty Nail.
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